I’ve decided to trial doing a weekly round-up of major news events in a handful of countries that generally don’t receive a lot of coverage on our media. Obviously, I can’t cover every country, so I’ve randomly selected the following:
With the Trump regime having reversed the easing of restrictions started under the Obama regime, Cuba has seen increasing economic challenges. The covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated these, just as it has in Bermuda and other Caribbean nations that rely on tourism for a substantial portion of their economy.
Prime Minister Marrero, noting that Cuba is entering its peak tourism season of November to March, as well as noting Cuba’s success in containing the pandemic, announced on Thursday, October 8th, that 13 of Cuba’s 16 provinces will reopen for international tourism starting next week. Unfortunately, the capital, Havana, will remain closed due to recent covid-19 rates detected there.
Regarding covid-19, 5 new cases were reported this week (out of 7,066 tests), leading to a total of 5,948 confirmed cases in the country. There are 4,755 people currently in hospital for observation. Overall, Cuba has seen 123 deaths from covid-19 since the start of the pandemic.
The Political Bureau of the Cuban Communist Party’s Central Committee convened on October 6th-7th, presided over by First Secretary Raul Castro. The agenda was focused on a review of several laws to be submitted to the National Assembly of People’s Power:
- Law of the President and the Vice President of the Republic.
- One governing the revocation of elected members of People’s Power bodies.
- The law establishing Organisation & Functioning of the Provincial Government of People’s Power.
- The Law of Municipal Administration Council Organisation & Functioning.
Also considered was an update to the Covid-19 Confrontation Plan, and preparations for the VIII Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, scheduled for 2021.
On October 8th, the President of the National Assembly, Juan Esteban Lazo Hernandez, announced the convoking of the Fifth Ordinary Session of the Ninth Legislature of the National Assembly of People’s Power. The session will begin on October 28th.
There are indications that the long-discussed currency reforms are likely to be initiated in the coming months. This is a topic deserving a special review later, however essentially it concerns the unification of Cuban Peso and the Convertible Peso (pegged to the US$).
The main news from Romania this week has been their ongoing struggle to contain covid-19. Like much of Europe, Romania is seeing a second wave and, with daily cases reaching up to 3,000 over the last week. The bulk of these cases are in the capital Bucharest (with almost the double rate compared to the rest of the country), although increases are being observed around the country.
The second wave has prompted the authorities to initiate new restrictions, with Bucharest in particular facing the most extensive restrictions. After only just reopening in September, following almost six months of covid closure, restaurants, cafes, bars, discos, cinemas, theatres and casinos are all to be closed until the covid-19 rate of infection reduces to under 1.5 per 1,000 inhabitants. The current rate in Bucharest is 2.1, compared to the country average of 1.1.
These closures have not been welcomed, with workers from the affected industries organising protests to call for more economic support. Many of the affected businesses are already economically stressed from the six-month long closure, and the workers are concerned that these new restrictions will lead to mass unemployment unless more financial assistance is provided.
In political news, the minority centre-right PNL (National Liberal Party), which came to power through a vote of no confidence a year ago (overthrowing the then governing Social Democratic Party) introduced legislation to reverse the judicial reforms introduced by the previous government.
The situation behind these judicial reforms, and the counter-reforms proposed by the current government, are, in many ways, central to the political discourse in Romania at the moment – and were a key part of the no confidence vote that brought the PNL to power last October. In general, the EU and the PNL argued that the SDP’s judicial reforms risked undermining the independence of the judiciary. The SDP reforms sought to introduce a special tribunal to investigate corruption within the judiciary, but the PNL and the EU considered that as being a tool to exert political pressure.
The PNL’s counter-reforms won’t be debated in parliament until March 2021 however. And parliamentary elections are required this year, so the PNL is gambling on winning a majority to see this legislation through. In last month’s municipal elections, the PNL and it’s center-right ally the USR PLUS, heavily defeated the SDP, and is being seen as indicative of the upcoming parliamentary elections.
The USA has entered into a new military agreement with Romania as they seek to counter the expansion of Russian military power in the Black Sea following their occupation of Crimea. As part of this deal, the Romanians purchased new Patriot surface-to-air missile systems in September, and the USA has increased its troop deployments at their two air force bases located there.
In related news, the USA has been able to force the Romanians to eject the China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN) which had hitherto been assisting with the development of Romania’s two new nuclear power plants. Instead, the US AECom company will take over this role. The Chinese had been assisting Romania with this project since 2014, and this move may be seen as part of the growing cold war between the USA and China under the Trump regime.
Fighting has resumed around Hodeidah, Yemen’s main port. The city is held by the Houthi, who control much of central and northern Yemen, and is the main port of entry for about 80% of all goods, particularly humanitarian aide. The UN has called for an immediate ceasefire following an upsurge of fighting in the area, which saw numerous civilians killed.
The war in Yemen is largely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, with Iran supporting the Houthi, while both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have sent troops to combat them, currently occupying much of the south and east of Yemen. The war, starting in 2015, has seen at least 100,000 people killed, numerous atrocities (especially from Saudi air raids) and has left Yemen, already the poorest Arab country, with millions suffering from food and medical shortages.
So far there have been 2,045 confirmed cases of covid-19, with 718 active cases and 593 deaths. Of course, the war has made it impossible to properly measure the impact of covid-19 on Yemen to date.